Uncertainty over Indian league's inaugural edition

NEW DELHI Sat Mar 31, 2012 10:19pm IST

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Uncertainty over the inaugural edition of India's Premier League Soccer (PLS) increased on Saturday when organisers disputed a claim from the All India Football Federation (AIFF) that the competition had been cancelled.

The six-team league, featuring a host of international players in the twilight of their careers, was launched with the hope of replicating the success of the Indian Premier League Twenty20 cricket tournament.

However, denied grounds by the West Bengal state government, the PLS missed its original March 24 start and AIFF secretary general Kushal Das said the first edition had been shelved.

"It has been cancelled, this is what IFA (Indian Football Association) has told us," Das told Reuters.

"We sactioned the event long back but AIFF is not managing it, IFA is. It's for them to decide."

IFA is the West Bengal unit of the Indian FA and its secretary general Utpal Ganguli insisted the competition would go ahead.

"It will happen this year and we will make an announcement soon," Ganguli told Reuters from Kolkata.

Ganguli was backed by Dharamdutt Pandey, chief executive of the Celebrity Management Ground (CMG), which came up with the idea for the league.

"The IFA secretary is in touch with the West Bengal sports minister and grounds are likely to be available from August. We are now looking at October-November," Pandey told Reuters.

If that does not materialise, PLS would suffer the fate of the i1 Super Series, an IPL-style motor racing league which had its first edition deferred to next year because of logistic issues.

Many expect PLS to succeed in West Bengal, an eastern Indian state with a passion for soccer unmatched in an otherwise cricket-crazy country.

Nearly 120,000 fans gave a memorable reception to Oliver Kahn in the German goalkeeper's 2008 Bayern Munich swansong in Kolkata and Argentina great Diego Maradona almost brought the city to a standstill during his visit in the same year.

Franchises spent nearly $7 million in the January 30 auction of PLS players and coaches where Argentine Hernan Crespo proved the league's hottest property, fetching $840,000.

Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, former France international Robert Pires, Nigerian Jay-Jay Okocha and Liverpool great Robbie Fowler were also auctioned among the franchises based in different cities in West Bengal.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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